Perhaps my favourite line from the Holyrood debate yesterday emanated from Richard Baker. Like cremola foam tipped into a bottle of irn-bru which is then vigorously shaken – in one of his sputtering seconds of dulcet outrage – Baker overflowingly insisted that the purpose of the parliamentary contemplation was to “clawback some dignity”. I truly hope I didn’t mishear the stentorian stoater. Clawback! Hardly the words of a worthy and virtuous citizen, these, full of robust independence, firm fetlocked, presenting a chipper jaw to the cold north sea (etcetera, etcetera...) are they? Clawback dignity? I love it! The rhetorical tactic opens up a whole new vista of improbable associations with bibable fruity undernotes. I look forward to hear Baker’s suggestion that we should “litigate ourselves decorum” - or alternatively, and I anticipate this will become a popular saw in the Labour Party – “warrant sell ourselves some competence”. The possibilities are endless. Certainly bottomless. Absolutely fatuous.
I don’t propose to examine the full run. We got the staccato summary of the incident last week. Heaven forfend needless repetition. I’ll only make a couple of points. I think it is only right that the ministers made a robust defence of the clinical practitioners involved. While I firmly believe nobody is above scrutiny, and we ought to be profoundly cautious about social mobilisations and policy decisions based on deferential calculations about what doctors claim to know. That said, its an ugly bit of thuggery to administer a drive-by shillelaghing to those without any real capacity to articulate responses, even in the course of the political chase after the fleeting MacAskill.
Contrawise, the argument would likely be that the opposition focus is on the Justice Secretary’s use and presentation of the medical advice given to him. Listening to the learned tribunes on this point, however, and Iain Gray’s charming paean to Iain Gray’s wisdom in the final, fitful moments of the discussion, its hard not to detect some imputation that the doctors involved were basing their estimations of the scope of Mr Megrahi’s more imminent morality on a game of darts, and that the process was a reckless caper. Alternatively, from his office in the bowels of St Andrew’s House, MacAskill was waiting, rubbing his grimy claws together, waiting for some silly sod in the prison ward to give him a papery excuse to boot Megrahi back to
Quite why they imagine this is true is somewhat beyond me – since, if one can forgive a ghoulish flicker – the man in Scotland with the most invested in the prompt, opportune death of Megrahi is the Justice Secretary. With this, we drift back into the wavering wattle-and-daub indictment squelched together by that master potter, Richie “the boy” Baker. While roughing up some civilians may seem collateral damage of a forgivable sort, I can’t imagine the doctors involved can be terribly flattered by some of the more oblique dubieties implicitly expressed about their competence. Equally, if one amongst the oncologists did imagine that MacAskill was driving forward a sly Libyan literationist agenda and was making improper use of the medical advice given so to do, do you really suppose redaction would prevent one of the media outlets from identifying them, and hooting and tooting their views accordingly?
Secondly, as I suggested previously, if the debate expanded at the procedural level, most people wouldn’t give a blunt fag end’s concern about it. Find me the soul who can rumble, plausibly, indictingly, when their script reads “errors in the management”? Despite the onion-squeezing sincerity evoked, how many people, politically speaking, get wildly asquiff about process? I don’t mean to imply that process is not important. But I think there are relatively few electing souls called to political arms by rallying cries, couched in terms of judicial review. The real questions remain those raised initially – should MacAskill have compassionately released Megrahi or shouldn’t he, given the circumstances? If people care about the subject, their discussion will most probably exchange questions along these lines. Their themes will be justice and mercy - not process and the procedural. It is precisely because the parliamentary discourse has drifted towards this procedural vortex that its discussions has so quickly become hypoglycaemia-inducing. Despite a few haughty hacks in the gallery taking a view, perhaps sustaining the subject on the front pages a pulse or two longer, I find it difficult to see much electoral benefit accruing to the critical by consequence.
As one associate of mine had it, herself not an obsessive political hack, the hostile squall is beginning to read like porcine cry in nursery rhyme, the three little pigs, where an unending and unillumating “weeeeeee weeeeeeee weeeeee” haunts the lugs – but we’re still awaiting the blessed relief of our three little pigs shoving off home. (In this respect I’ve heard a rumour, emanating from whispering halls of the Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms in
, that Richard Baker is strongly in the running for the forthcoming regal appointment of Swine Pursuivant, acting as the doughier comic fall-guy for the more elegant Unicorn Pursuivant, Adam Bruce. The am-dram outfit, as I understand it, includes the chunky arms of an Oinker Rampant…) Edinburgh
And so today, another day of parliamentary mischief, and the announcement of Bills! Bills! Bills! to keep our elected Baby Buntings in line. Crofters, debtors, lawyers … oh, and the small matter of independence. Something for all teething tots to gum at.